A week ago, cable TV operator DStv announced its plan to hike subscription charges for its services across board. In this piece, STEPHEN UBIMAGO writes on why government, for the sake of justice and consumer rights, should be proactive in halting the company in its track… Iyabode Thomas, a Digital Satellite Television (DStv) subscriber on the “Family Pay Plan,” got a text message from the pay-TV service provider on July 10. The message read: “Dear customer, please be advised that DStv Family subscription will change to N4, 000 from 1 August 2018. Thank you for your continuous support.” This is coming against the backdrop of a broader tariff review for DStv subscription being launched on August 1, 2018 by its parent company, Multi-choice Nigeria. Accordingly, the review will see an increase from N14,700 to N15, 800 for subscribers on the premium package; and an increase from N9,900 to N10,650 for subscribers of Compact Plus. It will also see an increase from N6,300 to N6,800 for subscribers of Compact; an increase from N3,800 to N4,000 for subscribers of Family; and an increase from N1,900 to N2,000 for subscribers of Access. However, it would be recalled that in April, 2015, a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos had restrained Multi Choice Nigeria Limited, operators of DStv, from implementing new rates and increase in tariffs payable by its subscribers across board. The restraining order was given by Justice C.J. Aneke while ruling on a suit filed by two Lagos-based legal practitioners, Osasuyi Adebayo and Oluyinka Oyeniji. Messrs. Adebayo and Adeniji had challenged the arbitrary increase in tariffs by the cable TV operator. The applicants had prayed the court to order the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to also implement the pay-per-view plan where subscribers could choose the programmes or channels they want and pay as they watch. This, according to them, is what obtains in some other parts of the world. It would also be recalled that in February, 2016, the Senate had reportedly finalised plans to commence a probe of DStv over its alleged arbitrary price hike. A motion to that effect titled, “Concern on Unwhiolesome Practices by Multichoice Nigeria,” was moved by Senator Isah Misau, in view of the fact that the company had been severely criticised by not a few Nigerians for their insensitivity to subscribers. But more particularly, the company has come under serve fire for refusing to adopt the pay-as-you-use model. Deputy Senate Leader, Ibn Na’Allah, supporting the motion, opined, “People must not be allowed to take what is not due to them irrespective of where they operate. “People must operate within the laws of the country and Nigerians must be protected on the way and manner people operate their business in this country.” Dr. Bukola Saraki, the Senate President, had commented: “We must play our role to ensure that we protect Nigerians and ensure that the best global practice is what is happening in our own country. “So I would want the committees as directed to look into the matter particularly to ensure that the CPC played the role they should play in ensuring that the rights of Nigerians are always protected.” The point is that many believe that the pay-as-you-subscribe model currently being implemented by Multi-Choice is total rip-off on Nigerians. This is because many hardly enjoy adequate power supply to run their electronic gadgets, such as their televisions and cable decoders. Hence, whether or not they have electricity to power their gadgets, they must pay on a month-on-month basis in order to continue as DStv subscribers. Other customer complaints against DStv include poor quality of service such as incessant disruption of service during change in weather condition without compensation; wrongful disconnection of service during subsisting subscriptions; decoder swap irregularities and poor redress mechanism. Despite all this, DStv would even contemplate increasing their subscription charges. This, for many Nigerians, is totally unacceptable. Many therefore maintain that so long as DStv continues to refuse implementing the pay-per-view plan, the country’s leadership must ensure they block every move by the company to increase its tariff. Speaking in this connection, Ms. Thomas said, “Having a pay-per-view is a just alternative, because the current subscription regime is a cheat on me. “Initially, I used to do the full bouquet, then N13, 000, and then I just thought I was wasting money and reduced it to around N3000, which was later increased to N3, 800. “What I really watch on the DStv is the E! Channel. Why should I be paying N3, 800 per month just for watching E! alone, and that is when NEPA even decides to give us light” Another subscriber, Francis Azih, lamented, “The current regime is a rip-off on subscribers as we should only pay for what we consume. I feel the pay-per-view thing is fair and the way to go.” Fact is that the debate around which pricing model would best suit pay-TV consumers in Nigeria is one that is greatly tied to the adequacy of the power supply. However, responding to customers’ complaints, Caroline Oghuma, Head of Public Relations, Multichoice Nigeria, explained that the concept of Pay-Per-View is different from pay-as-you-go, which has been misconstrued to mean pay-per-view. “Pay TV operation is not like the telecom version where you pay for the amount of airtime you want to use. Pay-as-you-go, as believed by some customers, is not obtainable in the pay TV business,” Oghuma said. She pointed out that the PPV model is a global practice which allows interested parties to pay and view special programmes or events. According to her, “Paying for PPV in Europe and the UK is equivalent to paying for two months subscription in Nigeria. It would be recalled that in 2016, the Senate Committee on Information had planned to organise a public hearing with stakeholders like the Nigerian Broadcast Commission (NBC) and the Consumer Protection Council (CPC). This was to work out ways to ensure that Nigerian customers are protected from exploitation, and to guarantee that the regulatory agencies begin to take their responsibilities as ‘watchdogs’ more seriously. The question remains: what has happened to that plan, as nothing has been heard in that regard ever since the lawmakers broached the subject. Consumer rights are fully backed by law as provided for in the Consumer Protection Council Act, under Chapter C25, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004. The Act provides for the establishment of the CPC and empowers it to uphold these rights for every Nigerian regardless of his or her social standing. DStv is Multi-Choice’s digital satellite TV service, with over 8 million subscribers, with the majority resident in South Africa and Nigeria.]]>

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